“The Orthodox Church is evangelical, but not Protestant. It is orthodox, but not Jewish. It is catholic, but not Roman. It isn’t non-denominational; it is pre-denominational. It has believed, taught, preserved, defended and died for the Faith of the Apostles since the Day of Pentecost 2,000 years ago.” Steven Robinson
I literally grew up in church with the Bible as my reading primer. My mother began taking me to church (Presbyterian) when I was three; as a result I have no conscious memory of not believing in the Holy Trinity that loves us. My grandparents were devout Free-Will Baptists while “Grandma Turner” next door, who was not really my grandmother, was a Methodist. My summers were spent attending no less than 4 vacation bible schools of 2 weeks duration each, which was basically the summer. My school friends were these mainline denominations as well as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses & Roman Catholics. In & after college I met people from these groups as well as Evangelical, Unitarian, Independent, Christian Scientist, Congregationalist, Fundamentalist, Nondenominational, Charismatic, Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Reformed, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Messianic Judaism, & Jewish Christian, with a couple of atheists & agnostics thrown in for good measure.
I was taught several “truths” throughout my youth:
- It did not matter what belief system you were as long as you were something, unless of course you chose to be nothing such as the atheists & agnostics,
- All groups ultimately believed one & the same thing; any differences were only minor & merely cosmetic,
- Every group had some truth in it while no group had the complete truth, therefore no group was wrong, &
- It was intolerant to believe or say otherwise.
If the above were true then:
- Why could I not take communion here, but I could there?
- Why was I just asked to leave because I did not speak in tongues?
- Why did I have to be re-baptized to join this group?
- Why does this group believe “A”, but not that group when both groups use the same Bible to support their views?
- Why does this group recommend “any Bible translation that helps you” while that group has its own special Bible translation?
- Why do some groups baptize children, but not others?
The why’s continued & soon became innumerable. Soon I quit asking why as I noticed another phenomena to question, that of behaviors conflicting with beliefs. I attended a multitude of churches across a multitude of denominations. I saw many incidents that involved cruelty, abuse, fear-mongering, extortion & manipulation of the sheep by those who were to be their shepherds. I watched numerous televangelists & their mega-churches. Many draw supporters through feel-good entertainment at best, while many others use outright fraud & deceit at worst. Unbelievably all go to great lengths to justify their actions & teachings from the Bible.
Many associate the Roman Catholic Church with sexual scandals while not realizing that such scandals are much more prevalent within Protestantism. Due to the multitude of Protestant denominations & unaffiliated groups (38,000+ & counting) it is much harder to discover & much easier to hide. I no longer wonder why Christianity as a whole is so little respected, our culture so secular, or atheism & agnosticism so prevalent. The sheep have been burnt by their shepherds & now they are wary. New converts are very rare. Mostly sheep are just shuffled from one religious holding pen to another, usually the one that is the most entertaining at the time.
Many a Protestant has informed me that their preacher or church “is not like that” as they attempt to convert me back to some branch of Protestantism. I reply that then they are very lucky & I wish them well. The problem is in the “system” of Protestantism. There is no unified belief as each individual is in essence their own pope. There is no way to resolve issues with a problem pastor as there is no authority anywhere to do so. A problem pastor will just go form his own unaffiliated, nondenominational independent group. Many Protestant pastors actually make far more extreme demands on & exert far harsher authority over their parishioners than what any Orthodox priest would ever be allowed to do. Yet they decry & refute ecclesial authority out of hand.
In college I took 2 courses that changed my religious outlook forever: World Religions & Intro to the Old Testament. The intent of World Religions was to expand what I had been “taught” under Protestant Christianity to now include non-Christian religions as well. The intent of Intro to the Old Testament was evident. Both courses however introduced me to Judaism. Aha! Rather than trace Christianity back to Christ, I would start where Christ & the Apostles had started. This tactic almost backfired as I began to seriously consider converting to Judaism. Study of Jewish writings however could not get me away from belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God & actually deepened my Christian belief.
I began searching for the group that was closest to the beliefs as taught by Christ & the Apostles, promoted a deepening faith & lifestyle, & had no issues with calling sin “sin”. Little did I realize this task was definitely easier said than done with 38,000+ groups out there. I learned several things during those years, namely that unity, doctrine, worship, history & authority are not only very important, but are absolutely indispensible. These things were not to be found within Protestantism.
Eventually I realized that only 2 groups appeared to have these things—Roman Catholicism & Eastern Orthodoxy. I was familiar with Roman Catholicism, but I still had my doubts about it. Several of the doctrines from the 1800s really bothered me. My spouse is a non-practicing Roman Catholic & I had attended several masses on special occasions. I had also attended several masses while in college. If possible I wanted a unified religious belief within our marriage & household.
Other than internet information I knew (or thought I knew) the basics of Eastern Orthodoxy & I liked what I saw. I was able to track down our small local Orthodox group. From my first visit service I was sure that I had found “home.” The people were the most devout & knowledgeable I had ever seen. Even the children knew what they believed & why. A cradle-Orthodox & a former Roman Catholic whose spouse was still Roman Catholic soon dispelled any notions I might have still had about becoming Roman Catholic . They & the priest began my real education in Orthodoxy; in reality & hindsight I knew very little at the time. This was not always easy for any of us, but their patience & kindness was always evident even when I unwittingly irritated or offended.
I have been an Orthodox Christian for almost 10 years. It was a long & arduous 34-year journey; a journey I am truly convinced God Himself enabled, guided & directed through His loving grace towards my unworthy self. There’s nothing special about me. I’m just your average & ordinary Orthodox Christian layman who likes to explore the bottomless depths of the Orthodox Faith & muse about what it means to believe in God who is “Everywhere Present Filling All Things.”